Somewhere between a rant and a research paper, this diary describes my frustration with trying to enjoy quality seafood in a profit-crazed food oasis!
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I should be eating more fish, and I really want to; I love fish dinner, fish sandwiches and fish soups. Some day I will bravely try a fish taco, it is on my bucket list!
But, the fish I have been getting lately is awful. When it cooks, a watery white liquid is left behind, and neither my cats nor my dog is interested in tasting it .
I recently bought haddock from my usual source, but as I was unwrapping it, it felt funny and kind of sticky. Also, lately, I have to wring water from frozen/thawed shrimp and there is nothing left of the scallops after cooking.
This time I looked closer. The haddock, instead of being from Iceland turned out to be from China. I kept looking and hidden where it could not be seen at the time of purchase were the words, "Contains Tripolyphosphate".
One of my sisters operates a small cafe, and we were discussing how difficult it was for her to find seafood to cook and serve to her customers which would result in a sufficient size portion. The fish she was buying kept shrinking, and she said it was a problem within the restaurant industry. She has taken to buying her fish fresh from a market more than 50 miles away and portioning it herself to maintain her reputation for quality.
Tripolyphosphate is know by several other chemical names; including Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Sodium Triphosphate,Triphosphouric Acid, Sodium Phosphate Tripoly, Pentasodium Triphosphate and Pentasodium Tripolyphosphate. It has been abbreviated to STTP. When I looked up information for this diary, I only used Tripolyphosphate in the search engine. It seemed like enough, but I would bet a nickle that by searching the other terms anyone could find out even more about this "food additive".
It comes in two grades, one for industrial use and the other called "food grade". It has many uses; including detergents, sanitizers, water softeners, cosmetics and of course in food, especially light colored or flakey fish, shrimp and scallops. The EPA considers STTP to be "Generally Recognized as Safe" unless it is inhaled. EPA describes the uses as insecticide, fungicide and rodenticide. California more cautiously calls it an air contaminant.
Even when used in food, the US doesn't require it to be listed on the label. My cue to look for it was the word China, a country now well known for a lax approach to food safety. I suspect that my haddock package was labeled because some of the processed, frozen fish might be sent to Canada, Brazil or countries in the European Union where labeling is required.
It is available for purchase on-line; I found one site where a pound was listed at $7.99 and 50 pounds were priced at $120.00. I found a photo of a fifty pound bag marked made in China, which makes sense, since they are apparently very big consumers of the chemical. Why would haddock, usually from the icy waters of the Atlantic, be sent to China for processing and then be shipped back to the US for sale?
Well, the secret is in what this chemical can do for the bottom line. Fish dipped into an STTP solution for a few seconds will retain its moisture. Fish soaked for a few minutes in the solution will actually absorb and hold extra water. Ostensibly the dipping is to prevent "Thaw Drip" or the loss of water at the seafood counter, but when soaked, the fish will weigh much more, defrauding the customer who will take it home and cook it, only to discover how much it shrinks. This "shrinkage" was beginning to burn my butt. Some seafood will actually retain up to 40% extra water, making that $9.00 piece of fish weigh in at $16.00! It is frequently used on hake, sole and imitation crabmeat.
The STTP solution will make the fish taste soapy, metalic or alkaline, and keep it looking shiny and "fresh" even when it is not. This is also true for meats, (most of the meat I saw during the research was pork, especially sausage, but I have seen/felt this stuff on chicken, too!) STTP also acts as a binding agent, keeping light flakey fish together like glue, until you cook it.
STTP does nothing to enhance the fish, it is cosmetic only and does not preserve freshness. It does fool consumers, and cannot be discovered on frozen seafood unless it is listed on the label. I may have cooked some breakfast sausage recently that had been treated; it felt sticky and there was a lot of water after cooking. I imagine it could also be added to ground beef to help it retain water until it is cooked. Fish or seafood treated with STTP will not sear in the pan or on the grill, a favorite way to get many meats to stay juicy during cooking. I will need to see if my burgers or sausage will sear now.
As a chemical product, the EPA does recognize that STTP is dangerous to lungs; I imagine that it would cause them to retain moisture, leading to swelling and reduction of oxygen into the bloodstream. One of the links below suggests that people avoid breathing the vapors while cooking or inhaling them while eating treated seafood.
When I searched, not only did the STTP chemical come up on the Amazon site, but so did a number of products which contain the chemical that were not seafood.
Dog food, cat food and pet treats are listed. Mountain House scrambled eggs and ham in a plastic bag showed up. Kraft EasyMac dinner was there. So was Electrasol / Finish dishwasher detergent. Periosol dental mouth rinse and toothpaste too. As I said before, I only searched one version of the chemical, and I didn't spend very long doing it. It is suggested that STTP is good for dogs because it helps break down the tartar on their teeth.
In large enough quantities, STTP is a suspected neurotoxin. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) details that is toxic to lungs and hazardous to other human parts; eyes, mucus membranes and skin among them. Reading the whole sheet is scary, there are many unknown aspects to this chemical, and yet it is allowed to be used in the processing of food and we do not have the right to know when it is. Cosmetics have to list all their ingredients, I wonder what the status of STTP in the cosmetic industry is. I did not find STTP listed in any cosmetic or cream I still had an ingredient list for.
So, my problem is, how can someone like me get fish to cook at home that isn't soaked in STTP? Suggestions include; catch it myself, clean and cook. OR Live near a fish market on the coast or on one of the Great Lakes. OR Ask at the store if the seafood is "dry" or "wet". (Wet seafood has been dipped or soaked). OR Do not buy any fish processed in China. OR Ask when eating at restaurants if the fish is dry or wet. OR Drive that 50+ miles to the same fish monger my sister is patronizing.
I am sorry for all you IAN regulars who read my Thursday diaries expecting something lighter to read, but I just couldn't get this out of my head.
I welcome additions or corrections, and my sources are the articles listed below.
Just, why do they expect us to eat fish a few times a week when the fish is processed with this accursed chemical? And, I really hate paying $9.99 a pound or more for water!
What are you thinking about fish?